Happy Halloween. We’re getting ready to go over to my sister Leisha’s house in about an hour. It is becoming a tradition. This will be the third or fourth year we’ve gone over there. Mom, Dad, and my other sister Vanessa go over as well. The kids show off their costumes and we have some pizza. Last year, my kids Jacob and Jillian, and Jacob’s friend Cameron went trick or treating around the neighborhood. Leisha lives in a upscale neighborhood so, in addition to the candy being better, there are fewer safety issues. This year, Jill is going as a witch, and Jacob is going as a Chief’s fan. We’re bring along Cameron again and also another one of Jacob’s friends, Breanna. Jill is 9 years old, and Jacob and his gang are 11 years old. We’ve only got a good couple of years of costumes and trick-or-treating left before they get “too mature” for this so I plan to take lots of pictures. (Which I will post on my other website http://www.geocities.com/tdouthat). Our neighborhood has gained a recent influx of smaller children, so I will get to hand out some candy in the next few minutes since it is already starting to get dark. We’ll be leaving just in time to miss the obnoxious older kids who don’t even bother with costumes anymore. I’ve been seeing a lot more of that in the last few years. Older kids in their early teens who rove around in packs of 4 or 5 with maybe 2 masks among them just going door-to-door for candy without even bothering with the formalities of the season. I heard on the radio today that Halloween was becoming a big holiday in Europe now. I had been under the impression that Halloween was an old Catholic holiday (All Hallow Saint’s Eve) that had been perverted over the centuries into the celebration of the macabre that we have now. I wasn’t aware that trick-or-treating and costumes was a uniquely American tradition that we’ve taken to exporting. Mexico has the Day of the Dead, that I have to admit I learned about from the Disney Channel’s Lizzie Maguire, so I assumed that all European-descended cultures had some version of Halloween. Too bad I missed the whole story and just heard the preview for it. Although, I did also see an article about the French trying to de-Americanize the holiday that had been commercialized about 5 years ago. I hear the first kids at the door, so time to go.
Well, it’s confirmed. I have no self-discipline whatsoever. My plan was to add to this blog on a daily basis, and here it is 5 days later. Oops. Anyway, I’m back. I am facing the usual problem of having too much to write about and not knowing where to start. I guess that is the point of the exercise. Just write whatever comes to mind and don’t stop until 15 minutes are up. OK, just before this I was reading a New York Times column by Paul Krugman. (One of my favorite internet pasttimes is to check out the “most e-mailed” news stories from Yahoo news and the New York Times. It is the source of many interesting anecdotes and factual tidbits.) In any event, today’s Krugman column is currently at the top of the NY Times list. He is talking about “willful ignorance” as it relates to the “war on terrorism”. I think that calling it a “war on terrorism” is just about as stupid as declaring a “war on drugs”. We’ve got enough real wars in the world without trying to turn law enforcement efforts into battles. In my opinion, the “war on terrorism” is being handled in the worst possible way. The effort was supposed to be to obtain justice for the victims of the 9/11 attacks and to prevent future terrorist attacks. Those are law enforcement functions not military functions. The “evildoers” are not soldiers; they are political radicals committing crimes. I have yet to see a battle between Al Qaeda operatives and some other army. They sneak in, kill people, and run away. They don’t attempt to obtain a victory or maintain a conquest. By turning the search for justice into a war, you are forcing the world’s muslims to choose up sides. They can choose to side with other muslims with whom they share a number of political views about Israel and Saudi Arabia as well as a religion, or they can choose to side with the United States whose main interest in muslim countries seems to be to exploit them for their natural resources and who have tended to prop up dictatorships. Then trying to drag Saddam Hussein into the “war on terrorism” when he doesn’t have anything to do with it other than being an Arab, you only make it worse. I have a lot more to say on the subject, but my 15 minutes is up.
My dad’s cousin Gary Marietta passed away this morning. He was 54 years old and the victim of a heart attack. His mother, my 92-year-old great aunt Charlotte, took him to the hospital around midnight last night and around 3 a.m. he died. Gary was a unique and important part of the extended Douthat clan. Gary was the only child of Jimmy and Charlotte Marietta. He was born in 1949 with mild brain damage that prevented him from being able to enter the working world, but that did not keep him from being a highly intelligent and engaging conversationalist. He could talk your ears off about his favorite restaurants, grocery stores, and actors. At family gatherings, it was always fun to watch him corner the latest addition to the family and see how long the newbie could hold up their end of the conversation. He could remember the name of every restaurant he’d ever been to as well as the dates he went there. Despite never holding a job, Gary wasn’t without his avocations. He liked to cut and style people’s hair. He was never very well groomed himself, but seemed to have a number of acquaintances for whom he would do their hair. Gary also liked to play the piano and organ at various churches around town. When I was about 10, Gary taught me how to write to movie stars to get signed photographs. One wall of his room at the time was lined with stacks of manila envelopes from agents and studios with signed photos of the famous actors of the time. If an actor had a speaking role in a movie that he’d seen, Gary would send off for an autograph. I didn’t have quite the passion for it that Gary did and I stopped after getting a Farrah Fawcett and a Bill Bixby (this was the era of Charlie’s Angels and the Incredible Hulk). Aunt Charlotte has worried for years who would take care of Gary after she was gone, but now I worry for Aunt Charlotte now that Gary is gone. The next Douthat reunion will be somewhat somber without Gary, and the Marietta home will likewise be somber for a while as well.
This blog is basically going to be my online journal. The style of my journal, modus operandi of my writing, is that I write 15 minutes straight without stopping. I don’t prepare an outline in advance, I just write for that period of time. I learned that style from a book by Dorothea Brande called “Becoming a Writer”. I first read that book in 1986 when I first got all hot and bothered about the idea of being a novelist. I’ve been keeping a journal since 9th grade in high school when my English teacher, Mr. Kapral, first forced me into it. Our daily assignment was to write 100 words in our journal. He came around and checked every morning that we had completed the entry, and every few weeks he would collect the journals and read them. We were allowed to write on any topic we chose as long as we wrote at least 100 words. I’ve been keeping a journal off and on ever since. I’ll have to remember to burn them before I die, because I have admitted to some pretty base deeds in those pages. In the past couple of years, I have taken to keeping my journal as plain text files on my PC. Once a week, I zip my journal and upload it to a network server for safe-keeping. That series of entries will be much easier to delete than the old paper ones, but I’ve committed fewer foul acts in recent years so there is less confessional material to worry about in the current entries. It’s the late ’80s and early ’90s that I worry about the most when I was at most most insane. I’ve said it a thousand times, but it bears repeating. Most people could probably be considered insane from about the time of their mid-teens to their late twenties. I don’t know if it is the rampaging hormones or just lack of experience that impairs one’s judgment, but I just don’t expect responsible personal behavior from anyone in that age group. Studies of criminal statistics would seem to bear that prejudice out to some extent. Most crimes are committed by young men between the ages of 14 and 25 (forgive me for failing to cite my source because I just don’t feel like looking it up at the moment.) so when a baby boom or population bubble occurs the crime rate will skyrocket when the kids reach adolescence and will decline again as the bubble passes into middle age. Well, that’s enough rambling for one day. I realize that it has been more than a week since my last post, but I have every intention of keeping this blog up on a daily basis, so I should write something again tomorrow.
Hi. My name is Trent Douthat. I am a 36-year-old computer programmer from Independence, Missouri. I’ve kept a journal for a number of years, and I’ve harbored a pipe-dream of becoming a writer since 1986. So, here I am keeping my journal in a public place which I guess makes my pipe-dream come true. I intend to write about a myriad of topics, and I hope the type of stuff that I generally write in my private journal doesn’t leak into this forum. My innermost thoughts are mostly insipid analysis of my neuroses, and nobody (not even me) wants to read that crap. My interests vary widely and include AS/400 programming, hacking (in the old-school sense, not the script-kiddie sense), atheism, Zen Buddhism, baseball, evolution, and politics. Any one of those topics would be sufficient to provide daily material for a blog, but I refuse to stick to any one topic. My current obsession is to teach myself the C programming language. I’ve been a professional programmer for the last 5 years and in that time I’ve coded for money in COBOL, CICS, DDS, JCL, CL, SQL, Easytrieve, SAS, and Rexx on IBM mainframes and AS/400’s. I started my amateur programming in 1979 when my parents bought me first computer, a TRS-80. I took the BASIC programming class in the backroom of the local Radio Shack and spent most of the summer of 1979 shut in my bedroom typing games into the computer from the pages of magazines. I moved on from the TRS-80 to the Commodore 64, and in 1985, I spent my college scholarship money on a 512k Macintosh. I spent 1985-1993 earning a bachelor’s degree in history and a law degree. I bought a Packard Bell 386 PC in 1994 so that I could run my law office, but used it to discover the internet and put up some lame web pages. I quickly discovered that I was a really piss-poor lawyer, but what other job can you do with a law degree? After holding a few jobs I didn’t like much, DST Systems was good enough to hire me in 1998 as a programmer trainee. They taught a couple dozen of us career-switchers to be mainframe programmers over the course of 4-5 months, and I haven’t looked back since. Sure I could’ve gotten a computer science or engineering degree by 1989 and have been programming professionally much earlier, but the humanities had much to offer that I would have missed otherwise, and I’m not sure I would’ve known how happy I was to be programming, until I got to know how unhappy I was as a lawyer, Pizza Hut manager, or AT&T customer service rep. So, here I am in 2003, trying to learn C. Why C? Well, C++ and Java are based on C, and the operating systems for the AS/400 and Unix boxes are written in C. If I ever have any hope of becoming a “real” hacker (wizard, guru, whatever…) then I need to learn C. I’m going about it by using the web-based training classes that my current employer, EDS, offers to employees through Digital Think, as well as the wide number of publicly available tutorials on the internet.